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Akkasah: Photography Archive at New York University Abu Dhabi, explores the histories and contemporary practices of photography in the Arab world from comparative perspectives: it fosters the scholarly study of these histories and practices in dialogue with other photographic cultures and traditions from around the world. Through a range of activities, the center also supports the developing photographic culture in the UAE.
Photographers were working in the Middle East very soon after the invention of photography in the mid-nineteenth century. But despite the fact that there are rich traditions of documentary, art and vernacular photography throughout the Middle East and North Africa, these traditions have yet to receive the full critical attention they deserve.
The Arabian Peninsula is a crossroads where the peoples, arts, cultures, and economies of Asia, Africa, and Europe have encountered each other for centuries. Today the Gulf is cosmopolitan in a truly global sense. Abu Dhabi’s embrace of this history is most clearly manifested in its ambitious plans to build three major museums (the Zayed National Museum, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi) dedicated to the regional heritage and world art. Akkasah aims to contribute to these crossroad encounters through an ongoing program of conferences, colloquia, publications, workshops, artist residencies, and exhibitions and through the creation of a photographic archive.
Akkasah aims to establish a photographic collection at NYU Abu Dhabi drawn from the Arab world and with a special focus on histories of the UAE. Photography has an especially important role to play in recording the rapid transformation and social diversity of the UAE. There are many collections of photographs, private and corporate, Emirati and non-Emirati, that provide invaluable insights into the UAE’s past. Akkasah will seek to preserve such collections (in either digital or analog form), create for them narrative contexts based on oral interviews and historical research, and make them available via a website for scholarly and general consultation. Akkasah also intends to commission new work. The archive is governed by the scholarly and ethical codes that define the educational mission of the University; the advanced technical resources and professional expertise of both New York University and New York University Abu Dhabi are at the disposal of the archive.
The Yasser Alwan collection includes more than 3,000 personal, family, and studio photographs and offers a varied and often surprising view of the ethnic, cultural, and social diversity that characterized Egyptian society in the first half of the twentieth century.
Photographer Yasser Alwan started visiting various flea markets and book merchants in Cairo in the mid-1990s, purchasing old prints and negatives. Most of these date back to the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, though there are also a significant number from earlier years. The majority of the photographs were sold individually, but there are also groups of photographs discarded together and a small number of albums.
This fascinating collection of vernacular photography presents a great variety of images depicting daily life in Egypt from the decades before the revolution of 1952, from formal studio portraits to amateur family photos of Egyptians, as well as other Arabs, Turks, Armenians, Greeks, Italians, and Western expats who lived in or visited Egypt. There are also photographs of trips abroad taken by Egyptians, as well as a collection of postcards dating from the early 20th century through to the 1960s.
Akkasah, the Center for Photography at NYU Abu Dhabi, acquired the collection in August 2014 and intends to add to it in the future.
Director, Akkasah: Photography Archive
Associate Dean of Arts and Humanities and Associate Professor of Literature and Visual Studies